Darren Hellwege is previewing each of Missouri’s football opponents for the 2014 season. The previews are being published Aug. 1 – 13 and will appear in the order of play.
Missouri v. Central Florida
Date and time: Sept. 13, 11 a.m.
Record: UCF was 12-1 in 2013; Missouri beat UCF 21-16 in 2012 in Orlando
Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
If you haven’t been following football closely, let me give you a hint—Central Florida may not be a major name school, but this is a major football program. It has put a lot of guys into the NFL, has recruited impressively in recent years, and are coached extremely well by George O’Leary.
This team soundly beat a very good Baylor team in the Fiesta Bowl, and while there will be focus on the big names it lost, the Knights return a great deal and will be a substantial challenge for anyone unfortunate enough to have them pop up on their schedule. Here’s a look at the team.
Blake Bortles was obviously a great one and being drafted No. 3 in the first round by Jacksonville (yes, ahead of Johnny Manziel) was no fluke. With Bortles on to the NFL, there is competition among talented but inexperienced choices, with the top spot currently being held by Justin Holman. At 6-feet 4-inches he’s physically gifted, and he went 18-31 with 185 yards leading the first offense in UCF’s spring game. Holman (who reportedly received a scholarship offer from Mizzou) has a big arm and as an early enrollee in ’13 has been around the program long enough to get the system. Now it’s just a matter of proving himself, which isn’t always a given with young QBs, even with as many tools as the Knights’ quarterback will have around him.
As for the competition, most likely to challenge Holman is Boise State transfer Nick Patti. Like Holman, he doesn’t have a great deal of experience at the college level but Patti was a high school superstar in Orlando and now that he’s been released from his scholarship by Boise State and granted a waver from the NCAA to make him immediately eligible, he may well be the quarterback of the future at UCF.
At running back, another stud has gone pro in Storm Johnson, but William Stanback returns having looked strong in his freshman campaign. He wasn’t highly recruited but backed up Johnson nicely and had a strong spring game. Cedric Thompson, Dontravious Wilson, Micah Reed, and incoming frosh C.J. Jones is among the other strong options at Central, a school known for having a good run game in the O’Leary era. An x-factor in the running game is the return of Joey Puopolo, a moose of a fullback that the Knights like to run behind.
UCF has a problem. Just as the Knights must replace a QB and RB, there are three tremendous offensive linemen no longer playing in Orlando. And only two players on the roster have started more than two games for UCF. Torrian Wilson is easily the most experienced and talented returner, but it’s a sign of the team’s faith in their young up-and-comers that Wilson was moved from tackle to guard (generally considered a less vital position) which will both strengthen the line up the gut and bring in two big, big young tackles. Redshirt sophomore Michael Campbell is the pick on the left side while at the right tackle Chester Brown brings 325 pounds and the athleticism to move it. Joey Grant is back at center and is the other experienced hand on the line. Grant’s on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy (given to the top center in college football,) is an honor roll student and has been involved with a lot of community work—one of the good guys. There is a wealth of highly recruited options to fill the right guard position and provide some depth, so the cupboard’s not empty but with Missouri just the second game on UCF’s schedule, two weeks after it plays Penn State in Ireland, one wonders how ready they’ll be to take on the Tigers’ fierce front four.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Knights are loaded at wide receiver, with seniors J. J. Worton and Rannell Hall (who tore apart Baylor in the Fiesta) and junior Preshad Perriman back, each with more then 700 yards in receptions last year. And with all that and more returning to the Knights, the new guy may be as exciting, with Jackie Smith (1,733 in 2012 with Alabama-Birmingham before being dismissed from the team) returning to the field in a Central Florida uniform after sitting out a year. Whichever quarterback ends up starting for the Knights, they’ll have plenty of great receivers to throw to.
UCF is stout across the board, especially in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Jim Fleming left before the Fiesta Bowl to take over as head coach at Rhode Island, then replacement Paul Ferraro left for the ubiquitous “personal reasons.” Linebackers coach Tyson Summers, who served as interim between Fleming and Ferraro is now the DC for keeps, so the scheme shouldn’t change much. UCF is troubled up front, has good linebackers who can pass defend and tackle but seem susceptible to play action, and a tremendous secondary.
And really the line’s not that bad at all. Tackles Demetris Anderson and Jaryl Mamea combined for 11 tackles for loss, and quick Thomas Niles led the team with four sacks from the end position including one in the Knights’ Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor. End Miles Pace is just one of several other experienced linemen returning. And the line is the weak spot in the Knights’ defense. Uh, oh.
Nightmare Terrance Plummer, who led the team with 86 tackles, is back. Starter Troy Gray, and Michael Easton and Justin McDonald who got substantial playing time, might battle for the two OLB slots, but Willie Mitchell is also trying to horn in. Keep an eye out for Chequan Burkett, an impressive true freshman last season. Whomever the final three end up being, Central’s very good at linebacker. And…
They’re even better in the secondary. Last year’s team was one of the toughest to pass on in the nation, and all four starters are back for more. At corner, Justin Glenn was first-team all-conference his freshman year with a remarkable 15 pass break-ups. Justin Ozerities is an experienced cover man who is also a key in run support, and had a crucial last second interception in UCF’s 23-20 win over rival South Florida. Clayton Geathers and Brandon Alexander make a dandy couple of safeties.
UCF’s win over Baylor was impressive and the gaudy 12-1 record last year may scare some. This excellent secondary will be a good test for the post-DGB Mizzou passing game, but I think we’ll see Mizzou running backs getting big yards in a game that should move the Tigers to 3-0.
Darren Hellwege is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association